NBA Power Rankings Week 4: Clippers climb into top spot

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These power rankings are not a projection of the future, they are a snapshot of what is happening right now — and right now, no team is playing better than the Clippers, which is why they take over the top spot. Can they sustain this play and stay healthy are questions for another day.

Clippers small icon 1. Clippers (9-1, Last Week No. 2). On a six-game win streak as they continue to be carried by the best defense in the NBA and an offense that has found its groove the past week. What are they doing right on D? Smothering the pick-and-roll ball handler, who are shooting just 31.4 percent against L.A (via Synergy Sports). Also they are closing out and contesting on spot up shooters very well. Fun game against the Bulls Saturday.

Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (8-1, LW 1). Cleveland keeps on winning and their offense keeps on firing away, but the team has a lot of games where a strong half of defense is all they produce (and against everyone but Atlanta that was enough). You can see the lack of commitment sometimes in their pick-and-roll coverage, which has been spotty this season (at best). Look for a better effort Tuesday night when Toronto comes to town, that should snap them out of their slumber.

Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (8-2, LW 4). About Stephen Curry getting fewer threes this season: Through 10 games Curry has hit 48 three pointers, which puts him on pace for 394 threes this season (he had 402 in 79 games last season). He’s very close to his old pace. Not surprisingly, with Curry hitting threes the Warriors now have the best offense (statistically) in the NBA. Four games on the road this week, including at Toronto and Boston, tough places to play.

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (7-2, LW 6). They picked up quality wins on the road last week at Oklahoma City and Charlotte. DeMar DeRozan now has eight 30+ point games this season and he’s doing it hitting midrange jumpers off the dribble at a high rate (that may not be sustainable, but so far he just keeps draining them). Rough week ahead with Cavaliers and Warriors are on the schedule.

Hawks small icon 5. Hawks (7-2 LW 7). They handed Cleveland its lone loss this season thanks to a stifling defense (second in the NBA), holding the Cavs to less than 40 percent shooting. The other thing the Hawks have going for them this season is fantastic bench play so far this season, statistically the best in the NBA. Best test on the schedule this week is at Charlotte.

Spurs small icon 6. Spurs (7-3, LW 3). Already three losses at home this season, after having just one all of last season. Part of that may be due to Tony Parker missing time with a sore knee — he’s not the dynamic player he once was, but he’s still a strong floor general that gets San Antonio into good actions. He’s working his way back into the rotation. Kawhi Leonard continues to be an absolute beast this season.

Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (7-4, LW 10). That they went 3-1 on the road without George Hill speaks to how much better this team plays with Gordon Hayward on the floor. That poor first week defensively seems a long time ago as the Jazz are locking teams down and now have the fourth-best defense in the NBA. Fun clash of styles game this Saturday when Utah travels to Houston — how does their defense deal with James Harden?

Hornets small icon 8. Hornets (6-3, LW 8). Tough losses to Toronto and Cleveland this week shouldn’t put a cloud over how well Charlotte has started the season. The most interesting thing is they are fourth in the NBA in percentage of shots with an assist, there with the Warriors, Celtics, Rockets, and other teams moving the ball around. Kemba Walker has played brilliantly and is carrying the Charlotte offense (he had 40 against Toronto but it was not enough).

Bulls small icon 9. Bulls (6-4, LW 15). The Bulls offense is coming back to earth, despite a couple monster games (39 and 37 point nights) from Jimmy Butler last week. The hot three point shooting of earlier in the season was not going to last — in the last five games the Bulls have shot 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. That makes them defendable. Tough road swing out West this week with the Trail Blazers, Jazz, Clippers, and Lakers.

Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (7-4, LW 11). Damian Lillard’s play this season has been fantastic, and it’s helped carry the Blazers through the end of tight games (all but one of their wins have been relatively close games). This is a team still getting outscored by their opponents on the season, but that is skewed by the fact they’ve had three games against the Clippers/Warriors and gotten thumped. Still, the defense is bottom 10 and that will hurt them if it doesn’t improve.

Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (6-4, LW 5). They have lost three in a row and the reason isn’t Russell Westbrook (who had another triple-double Sunday), it is their defense that has stumbled. The Thunder were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA to start the season but have been torched during this losing streak (including by a not-great Orlando team on Sunday). Bet the over when Westbrook and the Thunder take on Harden and the Rockets Wednesday.

Celtics small icon 12. Celtics (5-4, LW 14). Still no Al Horford (concussion) or Jae Crowder (ankle) but give them credit for picking up wins over the weekend against struggling teams in the Knicks and Pacers. Horford should return this week, and they could use him when they face Golden State and Detroit, that said the Celtics enter a soft part of the schedule and should be able to put together some wins, if the defense starts to come around.

Lakers small icon 13. Lakers (6-5, LW 12). The Lakers are getting little out of their big off-season signings — Timofey Mozgov has been passable, but Luol Deng’s picture could show up on a milk carton soon. The biggest surprises with the Lakers this season go: 1) Nick Young playing defense; 2) Julius Randle’s all-around improvement; 3) the bench being one of the better ones in the league, scoring more than 50 points a game, and when the starters are out the Lakers have outscored opponents by 7 points per 100 possessions.

Bucks small icon 14. Bucks (5-4, LW 13). Both the Pelicans and Mavericks got their first wins of the season against the Bucks last week, not a great sign. They are getting enough offense out of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo (especially at home), but it’s not a balanced attack. The Bucks have struggled on the road and are out there again this week against the Hawks and Heat, then they get the Warriors at home.

Rockets small icon 15. Rockets (5-4, LW 16). Patrick Beverley should return this week, providing more shooting, defense, and depth in the back court. They need it — when James Harden sits this team’s offense drops by 30 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets split a home-and-home last week with the Spurs, which they will take. More good tests with Oklahoma City, Portland, and Utah on the schedule this week

Pistons small icon 16. Pistons (5-5, LW 9). They went 1-3 on the road last week, including a loss in Phoenix, but they were able to pound a big Denver team inside, which is a promising sign. The Pistons continue to struggle with consistency on offense, but that’s to be expected with Reggie Jackson out injured, he is at the heart of what they do on that end. Tough schedule ahead this week with the Thunder, cavaliers, and Celtics.

Grizzlies small icon 17. Grizzlies (4-5, LW 19). They have the point differential of a 3-6 team (according to, but this is a team that knows how to grind out close wins. The Grizzlies’ offense still needs spacing, it gets 19.3 percent of its shots on spot ups but his hitting an eFG% of 48% on those, not high enough. On contested catch-and-shoots they are hitting just 27.7%.

timberwolves small icon 18. Timberwolves (3-6, LW 23). The opposite of Memphis, Minnesota has the point differential of a 5-4 team. Andrew Wiggins is shooting 54.8 percent from three but what was most impressive Sunday against the Lakers was the way he attacked the rim. Rookie Kris Dunn’s up-and-down play in a big role shows why Tom Thibodeau might night be that eager to move Ricky Rubio once the Spanish point guard gets healthy.

Nets small icon 19. Nets (4-5, LW 24). That this team is pushing .500 with this roster (and Jeremy Lin still out) is a credit to what coach Kenny Atkinson is doing. Granted, the Nets have yet to beat a team over .500, but they are beating teams closer to their level, which is more than was expected. Tough week ahead with the Clippers, Lakers, and Thunder all on the road, then the Trail Blazers at home.

Pacers small icon 20. Pacers (4-5, LW 18). Think they don’t miss Frank Vogel and George Hill? The Pacers have the third worst defense in the NBA this season. The Pacers split a home-and-home with Philly and both games went to overtime — they were evenly matched. Not a good sign. On offense, the Pacers need Paul George back (he was out Sunday) and to get Myles Turner more touches.

Kings small icon 21. Kings (4-5, LW 22). Mike Malone had the Kings playing deliberately (and winning, until DeMarcus Cousins got sick), then the owner wanted to run, and they got George Karl. Now Dave Joerger has them playing slowly again, but that only works well for a good defensive team, and the Kings are 25th in the NBA on that front. Cousins trade rumors are swirling around the league, how the players (including Cousins himself) handles that will have a lot to do with if they can start to get wins.

Magic small icon 22. Magic (4-6 LW 21). Their record is better than they are actually playing, they have the point differential of a 2-8 team, and they still have the second worst defense in the NBA (which has to be gnawing at Frank Vogel). If the Serge Ibaka that showed up against the Thunder can show up every night that would help. Winnable games this week (Pacers, Pelicans, Mavericks) and they kind of games they need to win if they fancy themselves a playoff team.

Mavericks small icon 23. Mavericks (2-6, LW 27). Dallas picks up a couple of wins with Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams sidelined, in part because Harrison Barnes continues to earn that massive paycheck with great play. Nowitzki is expected to return this week (possibly Monday) and how Barnes adjusts his game to fit with the future Hall of Famer will determine if Dallas can get enough offense to get wins (their defense has been okay).

Nuggets small icon 24. Nuggets (3-7, LW 17). They have lost four in a row and most of the games haven’t been close. Mike Malone is still searching for the big man rotations that work for him (he has ended the Nikola Jokic/Jusuf Nurkic starting combination). Rookie Jamal Murray is starting to put up some points outside the paint for Denver (19 points Sunday. Denver is at home but will be challenged by the Raptors, and Jazz this week.

Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (3-6 LW 25). All the talk about how much triangle offense they are running, if they are running it right, and how happy (or not) people are about it is moot — if they can’t get stops they will lose. And the Knicks still have the worst defense in the Association. Part of the problem is the Knicks foul a lot, and that’s not just on Tony Brothers.

Heat small icon 26. Heat (2-6, LW 20). They have lost four in a row, their offense is struggling, and now Goran Dragic will be out for a while with an ankle injury. Dion Waiters has some NBA skills, but he’s no point guard and now he’s forced to play it some in Miami. Things don’t get easier with the Spurs and Hawks on the schedule this week.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (3-8, LW 26). While Devin Booker is scoring 20.2 points per game (second on the team) he is shooting just 27.5 percent from three (he shot 34.3 percent last season). Phoenix gave up 17 straight points during a loss to Brooklyn on Saturday, then played better Sunday but were no match for Golden State. They are playing teams close but struggle to finish. The are on the road this week in Denver, Indiana, and Philly.

Wizards small icon 28. Wizards (2-7, LW 28). They picked up a nice win against Boston, but then lost two over the weekend (Chicago and Cleveland) as Bradley Beal missed the games with a sore hamstring. Marcin Gortat created a controversy saying the Wizards’ bench was one of the league’s the worst — but he was right. Statistically they are the third worst bench in the NBA this season. It’s just one of many problems for this team.

Pelicans small icon 29. Pelicans (1-9, LW 29). It’s great to see Jrue Holiday set to return this week — not because the Pelicans need him (although they do) but because it means his wife and baby are healthy enough for him to get back into the grind of the NBA. Holiday’s playmaking should help improve a bottom-five offense, but have the Pelicans dug too deep a hole already to make the playoffs this season in the West?

Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (1-8, LW 30). They pushed Indiana to overtime in two games and picked up their first win of the season. That’s the good news. Brett Brown can’t wait to get the minutes restriction off (or at least increased) on Joel Embiid — you could see how much they need him when Brown brought him back in overtime anyway to get the win last week. He’s the focal point of their offense and their defense is vastly better with him on the court.

Three things to watch in Game 3, starting with who wins the fourth quarter


MIAMI — After looking flat in Game 1, the Heat got some rest, acclimated to the altitude, and looked like themselves in Game 2 — particularly in the fourth quarter. Miami had a game reminiscent of the Boston series, and when it was done the NBA Finals were tied 1-1.

Can Denver bounce back in Game 2? The Nuggets are facing adversity they have not seen yet this postseason — they were up 2-0 in every other series — and the question is how will they respond? That and how well will Miami shoot the 3-pointer?

Here are three things worth watching.

1) Who wins the fourth quarter?

While the Heat’s 48.6% 3-point shooting in Game 2 was at the heart of their win, the question shouldn’t be can they repeat it? Of course they can. It’s why they are still playing. They have seven games this postseason shooting 45+% from 3.

However, there is one other key factor in this series: The fourth quarter.

Through two NBA Finals games, the Denver Nuggets are +29 in the first three quarters but are -21 in the fourth.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone is no fan of the trend — and he had the stats to back himself up.

“If you really want to simplify the first two games, in the first three quarters we have dominated both games. The Miami Heat are dominating the fourth quarter,” Malone said, “They’re averaging 33 points a game in the fourth quarter, shooting over 60% from the field in the fourth quarter and over 50% from three.”

Malone was just getting started.

“I’ve got a great stat: I think quarters one through three after two games, we had around 19% of our possessions were [shots] at the end of the shot clock, last seven seconds,” Malone said. “In the fourth quarter of Game 1 and 2, that jumps from 19% to 32%.

“Which means we’re taking the ball out of the net, we’re walking it up, we’re playing against the zone and we’re getting caught playing in really late-clock situations, which is hurting our offense.”

Miami’s late-game dominance goes back to the regular season, when they had the second-best net rating in the clutch of any team in the league. It has continued through the playoffs, starting with against the Bulls in the play-in — when the Heat had to come back in the fourth just to be in the playoffs, — and has been a through line to the NBA Finals.

This is not going to be a series won in blowouts, there will be more games decided in the fourth quarter and the clutch. If Denver can’t figure out the final frame starting in Game 3, they will be in trouble this series.

2) Can Heat keep Nikola Jokić from being an assist machine

The Miami Heat need to make Jokić a scorer.

Erik Spoelstra hates that phrasing and Nikola Jokić says he’s just playing the game, not thinking about it that way. Fine. We’ll put it this way:

The Heat can’t allow Jokić to become an assist machine.

Phrase it any way you wish, but if Jokić is allowed to score and dish the Heat will not be able to keep up with the Nuggets offense. Put simply, if Jokić scores 35+ points but has around five assists, the Heat have a chance to win. But if he scores around 25 points but with 10+ assists, if Denver is raining down scoring from everywhere, Miami will not be able to keep up.

The Heat plan is a lot of Bam Adebayo and to keep giving Jokić different looks.

“He can go through two or three coverages and figure it out in a matter of, up and down, up and down,” Adebayo said, nodding his head up and down. “He’s already read the game, reading the game. So the biggest thing for us is switching up the coverages and having him see different looks.”

3) It’s all about the Heat shooting

It’s simple and reductive, but it’s been true thought the playoffs and continues into the Finals: When the Heat hit their 3-pointers at a 40%+ clip, they win. It was true in Game 2, and it’s how Miami can keep pace with Denver.

Game 2 was not some shooting aberration, the Heat can keep doing this and the Nuggets know it.

“They are shooting against Milwaukee 43%. They are shooting against Boston 40-something percent,” Jokić said. “They have good shooters, and that’s why they are so deadly and dangerous, because you cannot leave them open.
“Yes, the first game Max [Strus] and Caleb [Martin] didn’t shoot well. But we know they’re going to be better. We just need to don’t give them wide-open looks. They are two great shooters that at least they need to see somebody in front of them, not just a basket.”

That was the theme from Denver — get out and contest. Make it tougher. Use the Nuggets’ length and size advantage to challenge them. The problem is the Heat have shot incredibly well on contested 3s on the night their shots are falling, and with the comfort level their role players have at home it may not matter who is in their face.

Lakers question coming in August: Extend Anthony Davis, or wait?

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers
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Anthony Davis had an incredible playoff run: 22.6 points and 14.1 rebounds a game while looking like the best defender in the league. It was a reminder of why he has a championship ring and what he is capable of when healthy.

Coming off that, should the Lakers offer him a contract extension?

Davis is under contract for $40.6 million next season, with an early termination option (essentially a player option) for the 2024-25 season for $43.2 million. Come August, the Lakers can offer Davis an extension of up to three years, $167 million (approximately, it would depend on the official salary cap numbers).

Should the Lakers? ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported on Get Up that locking Davis up so he can’t test free agency in 2024 will be a priority and they will extend him. However, on Sedano and Kap on ESPNLA, ESPN’s Lakers beat writer Dave McMenamin was more cautious. (Hat tip Real GM.)

“Certainly, the Lakers’ thinking ever since they acquired Anthony Davis is that it’s an Anthony Davis, LeBron James combo deal. With LeBron James only under contract for sure for another year with a player option the following year., and with him openly contemplating retirement at this stage of his career… But you just don’t do it. You play out this year with him. You see where things stand with him and LeBron. Obviously, then you risk the second year he has left, he can opt-out and leave as a free agent…

“You hope Anthony Davis stays healthy and you get the best out of him next year. But I don’t think they’re going to be in a position to be interested in a long-term extension for him this summer.”

At its core, this comes down to LeBron James and his future. If he retires, leaves, or in whatever way is not on the Lakers after the summer of 2024, as great as Davis can be, he is not the No. 1 option the Lakers would want to rebuild around. At that point, the Lakers would want to move on, although trading Davis (or completing a sign-and-trade) would be the Lakers’ preferred option, bringing back pick and young players to help jumpstart whatever comes next.

If LeBron is still a Laker in 2024-25, the Lakers would want Davis on the roster.

It’s not an easy decision for the Lakers, but with an increasingly strict CBA looming, it’s understandable if the Lakers want to wait and see how this season plays out before committing to Davis.

James Harden reportedly “torn” over Philadelphia vs. Houston

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers
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Reports of James Harden strongly considering a Houston reunion have grown stronger throughout the season, with reporting on it here at NBC Sports and across the NBA media universe.

But would Harden really leave a contending team in Philadelphia to go to a rebuilding Houston team? He appears torn on his decision, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on The Ryen Russillo Podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“We’re less than a month out from free agency starting. I really think he’s torn with the prospect of staying in Philadelphia or moving on to Houston potentially and returning back to his home. That’s where his roots are and his family there of course. They’ve got upwards of $60 million [in cap space]. They can make even more money available. Close to $70 million in cap space. They’re going to have a ton of money and I think this is a team in Houston where I do believe they are going to be aggressive in the marketplace…

“My sense right now is this is someone that is torn. I think whichever way it goes, it’s going to be relatively close. That’s why as we get closer to July 1, June 30th, those conversations that he’s going to have, as he becomes a free agent, with Nick Nurse [the new 76ers coach] and with Daryl Morey, what their vision is for him, what their vision is for that team, what that offer ultimately is going to be versus comparing it to whatever Houston comes with on June 30th or July 1, those are all very important factors. This is a guy that you would assume would sit down with both teams. Philadelphia is going to have a window earlier, potentially going in and scheduling meetings. This is a situation now where we’re going to see which way it lands.”

Both league sources NBC Sports has spoken with and other media members traveling with the NBA Finals — Harden has been a topic of conversation over meals — think Houston is the frontrunner. There is almost an expectation in league circles that Harden will be a Rocket next season, though nobody feels anything is decided.

Is that the right move for the Rockets? They have an interesting young core with whoever they draft at No.4 plus Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Kevin Porter Jr., Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and others, but it’s not got a group ready to win a lot of games on the NBA level yet. The Rockets have been through three years of a rebuild and the reports are ownership wants to start seeing wins and a playoffs trip. Harden gets them closer to that now, but at what cost to building a long-term winner and culture?

The ball is in Harden’s court. The only real questions are, has he decided, and how much would the Rockets offer? (The max is four years, $201 million, but do they want to pay him $50 million a season for four years with where his skills are currently and are trending?)

Miami thrives in adversity. How will Denver respond to adversity in Game 3?


MIAMI —We know how the Miami Heat handle adversity. Their ability to deal with it is why we’re still watching them play.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team evened the NBA Finals at 1-1. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.”

The question heading into Sunday is how will the Nuggets handle adversity? Denver was the No. 1 seed for most of the season, has been up in every series 2-0 entering Game 3, and only lost three games in the West playoffs. While Denver has faced challenges during the season it had a very different path to this point than Miami.

“What I know about our group is for years now we’ve handled adversity very well,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I have no doubt that tomorrow night will be a much more disciplined, urgent team for 48 minutes.”

“Discipline” was one of the buzzwords around the Nuggets on Tuesday, heading into Game 3. The Heat players sounded like themselves, focused but a little looser, a little more comfortable at home in a familiar environment.

“This is who we are,” Kevin Love said. “Obviously when it’s time to get down to business, our focus is all the way there during our prep, during our film session… But when we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose. It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”

A change in tone was more evident among the Nuggets. To a man they talked about urgency, discipline and communication.

The Nuggets also had a straightforward, honest film session out of Game 2.

“I showed 17 clips this morning,” Malone said. “Every clip was a discipline clip, if you will, where our discipline, whether it was game plan, whether it was personnel, whether it was defending without fouling, whatever it may be, 17 clips added up to over 40 points in Game 2.

“That, to me, is staggering. What we can do better is just be a lot more disciplined in terms of the game plan, who I’m guarding. Most of that stems from communication.”

Actually, the Nuggets may need to watch their communication during the game.

“We probably could communicate a little bit better and also just be more aware of the actions they are running,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “But also they are playing off of our coverages, they are hearing what we are communicating to each other and they’re doing the opposite. If we say ‘switch,’ they are slipping out for open threes and if we don’t say ‘switch,’ they are actually going to set the screen.

“So they do a really good job of playing off of what our game plan is. So that’s what this film session was about this morning, fixing that. So hopefully they won’t get as many open shots.”

Malone called out his players after Game 2, although he was quick to say it was more them calling themselves out.

Denver has been challenged, by their coach and Miami. How will it respond to this adversity?

“Yeah, we’re probably going to see tomorrow, are we going to respond well or not,” Nikola Jokić said. “That’s the answer.”